How to Raise a Reader

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With my background in speech-language pathology and library science, I have a special interest in reading and how reading aloud is crucial to promoting reading and language skills of an early learner. You can read more about my interests and background here: About Me.

When both of my children were under 5 years old, I had the advantage of working in the children’s department of a library. Working in that environment gave me access to all the wonderful picture books and chapter books I could get my hands on. The amount of books my family had checked out was embarrassing and upwards of 100 books at a time! My appetite for children’s books was driven by my knowledge of educational statistics and I wanted to make sure my kids could read by the time they went to school. Some of the statistics I found the most profound include:

  • By the age of 2, children who are read to regularly display greater language comprehension, larger vocabularies, and higher cognitive skills than their peers. Raikes, H., Pan, B.A., Luze, G.J., Tamis-LeMonda, C.S.,Brooks-Gunn, J., Constantine,
    J., Tarullo, L.B., Raikes, H.A., Rodriguez, E. (2006). “Mother-child bookreading in low-income families: Correlates and outcomes during the first three years of life.” Child Development, 77(4) as found on
  • A study of 3- to 5-year-old who had been read to at least three times per week found the children:

With the statistical information in mind, I read to my kids constantly (and didn’t clean my house). While I read to both of my kids in fairly equal amounts, they took very different learning paths and have varying levels of interest in reading. My oldest read on her own with no instruction. She just seemed to absorb the words and was reading chapter books at age 4. My youngest took a more traditional approach. She liked listening to the books and was engrossed by the stories, but she learned to read using an instructional phonics-based method. She read well by the time she started 1st grade. My 12-year-old now performs well on standardized tests, but she has turned into a reluctant reader, which can probably be attributed to her use of technology (iPod) instead of books. My 8-year-old always has a book in her hand and is my voracious reader. In the end, all the early exposure to reading and books was successful despite the different learning paths they took.

In this post, I will share with you some ways that you can raise a reader.
Dr. Seuss quote

How to Develop Early Literacy in Children

or How to Raise a Reader

The American Library Association defines “early literacy” as

“the natural development of skills through the enjoyment of books, the importance of positive interactions between babies and parents, and the critical role of literacy-rich experiences.”

To develop this”enjoyment of books,” here are some steps you can take:

(1)Read, read, and read some more to your children.

I don’t think you can read to your kids too much (unless it begins to interfere with everyday life, of course). When my kids were babies, I even read aloud from the grown-up books I was reading. The more your kids can hear the nuances and words of our language, the more they are going to benefit from improved comprehension and better reading skills in the future.

(2)Participate in your local library’s early literacy programs.

Sign-up for story times. Our local library hosts four separate storytime groups:

  • Lapsit: Birth to walking
  • Walkers: Through age three and not in preschool
  • Preschool: 3-5 years old
  • Family: For the entire family

Most libraries offer similar services. Some require registration. You can check for more information at your local library’s children’s department. The libraries tailor their story times to the needs of each age group. The parents interact with their children in the lapsit and walker storytimes while the preschool children sometimes attend the storytime without the parents in the room. While a huge benefit of these storytimes is exposing your child to a literacy-rich activity where they can engage with and learn new vocabulary, you also have the benefit of being around other adults and potentially making new friends yourself. Plus, the librarians love to share the newest books which can quickly become some of your child’s favorite books. While there is nothing wrong with Dr. Seuss’ The Foot Book, it can get tiring reading the same book repeatedly. And, there are many creative picture book authors which you might not hear of without the help of your children’s librarian.

(3)Read things besides books

As you bring your child to different places and while at home, show and read words in their environment such as business signs, traffic signs, food packages, etc. There are hundreds of opportunities each day to point out words to your kids.

(4)Encourage them to listen to audiobooks.

While there is no substitute for mom or dad reading with the kids, audiobooks offer some benefits:

  • It gives mom a break. Before my kids could read, they still wanted to hear stories when it was time for me to indulge in some “me-time.” We would check out audiobook cds from the library and they would listen to some great stories so I could clean the house, relax, or do other mom-related activities. Now, you can download audiobooks from many public libraries so you don’t have to worry about losing the individual cds (which we have sadly done on a couple occasions).
  • Children are exposed to  longer narratives often filled with sound effects and fantastic displays of vocal intonation. These additions further enhance the child’s comprehension of the stories they are listening to.

(5)Give books as gifts Garrison Keillor quote

Giving books as gifts can get kids excited about books. Creating a tradition of giving a book for birthdays and holidays helps build the child’s library and provides the expectation that books are special. As much as I love the library, my girls appreciate the books they own more than the books from the library. My youngest will read her own books repeatedly and will carry a stack with her each time she rides in the car.

Where to Find Great Picture Books for Young Children

Look for award-winning books on websites and blogs which focus on picture books. My favorite places to find picture books are the following:

Caldecott and Medal and Honor BooksThe American Library Association keeps a list of all the award-winning picture books from 1938 until now. To read an interesting history about how the Caldecott award started, you can check it out at ALA: About Caldecott. My family uses this list as a way to read the best in children’s picture books. I am a chronological person and I started with the list from 1932 and am working my way up from there. It is fascinating for me to see how picture books have changed over time. And, yes, we still read picture books at our house! (I will admit it is mainly because I love them). My library contains most of the Caldecott winners, but not all of the honor books.

ALA’s Notable Book ListsThe American Library Association also puts out a list each year of notable books from various age categories. You can find many delightful books for a young child in the lists for “Younger Readers.” And, the Caldecott is automatically added to these lists each year. The online lists span the years 1995 until now.

The Children’s Book Review: This site publishes review and book lists of the best in children’s literature. You can search by age group on this site and it will give you all the reviews in its database for that age group.

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” —Emile Buchwald

Check out some of these resources for book lists and read to your kids. In return, you will improve their language skills and change your children’s lives by exposing them to hundreds of books and creating an excitement for the written word.

For other posts in this series, check out the following posts:

Alliteration Books to Improve Your Child’s Reading Skills 

Great Rhyming Books to Build Reading Skills

Rhyming Games and Activities

Please comment and let me know some of your favorite resources for picture books and how you incorporate reading into your child’s life. How will you raise a reader?


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  1. We did all these things! Now I have kids that won’t stop reading! Our weekly visit to the library is a non negotiable errand. Great post! Found you at Manic Monday’s hop.

    1. Thanks for the comment. It’s exciting when you know your efforts paid off and you end up with a child who loves to read!

  2. I love hearing from other moms who love to read and want to instill that love in their children as well. Your tips are great, especially the one about reading things other than books. I never thought about that before, but I think you’re right that this can really help show the value of reading.
    My husband thinks I’m completely nuts, but I decided to try to read through the entire picture book section of the local library with my daughter (who is 9 months old.) Right now we’re in the middle of the Bs, so we have quite a way to go! We have fun, though, and have already discovered quite a few new favorites along the way. 🙂

    1. I like your system of reading through all the picture books. That sounds like something I would do! I’m sure you have read some great books as well as some books that leave something to be desired.

  3. This is great! I love the idea of reading things in their environment besides books… it shows them that language is all around them, and adds variety to their learning. Thanks for linking up at the Manic Mondays blog hop!

    1. Thank you for hosting the hop and thanks for you comment!

  4. This is great! As a former reading specialist (who now home educates), I couldn’t have written this better myself. I’m a firm believer in reading to kids when they are young over any other kind of educational activity. It’s worked well in our house so far.I have two readers so far, one who is learning to read, and 2 who love to listen to books! I’m always amazed to see the differences in their interests. My oldest always chooses to read and while my son can read well, it’s not his first choice. I also recommend reading the books they read as they get older to participate in conversations with them. That’s one of my favorite things to do with my daughter!

    1. I definitely agree with you as far as reading the books as they get older, especially as they start reading young adult literature. It can keep the doors open to conversation on some sensitive topics.

  5. I read to the two four year olds I do childcare for everyday. I believe it’s so important. My cousin,, on the other hand, thinks my family is silly for always reading to babies and toddlers even though maybe they can’t understand all the words or the underlying plot of the story yet. She lived with my family for a year and often expressed her opinion to us. We’ve tried to show her some of the reasoning behind why it’s so important–even sending her some of these types of studies, but she remains a skeptic. I’m definitely a believer!

    1. Good for you for reading to those kids! It will help so much with their language development. It’s always interesting when people don’t “buy in” to the value of reading despite multiple studies proving the point.

  6. We did these things too and found them to be beneficial in every area of learning. A good reader tends to do well in other areas too: math, science, etc. When I taught school I was appalled at the poor reading skills in other kids. Our family had a huge emphasis on reading. I raised 15 kids, 13 of whom were special needs adopted, and even the lower IQ kids learned to read well. Even my son labeled TMI is a good reader. I read aloud to all my kids in and out of my classroom. The highschoolers loved that we had a time every day to read aloud a series. It is good that you are encouraging reading. It’s key.

    1. Wow…15 kids! I can’t even seem to stay organized with just two kids. I love that you taught the kids with special needs about the importance of reading. And, I am so happy that you read to the highschoolers. Kids are never too old to be read to.

  7. Now that my girls are both in the 20’s, I happy to report they are both avid readers! Reading was also a huge part of their upbringing, and being a working Mom thankfully my dad, who was their caregiver during the day, also felt that reading was an important and necessary skill and I still have the collection of many books he would read with the girls (and my nephews) each and every day! Our family is even involved in a dog therapy group where kids who are struggling with reading, read books to the dogs without the fear of being judged or making mistakes!

    1. The dog therapy reading programs are absolutely wonderful! Even though my daughter isn’t a struggling reader, she loves reading to the dogs. Our library participates in this program and it not only makes kids more comfortable with reading out loud, it also helps make them more comfortable around dogs. This is initially why we utilized the program. Now, my daughter just enjoys the experience of reading to the dogs and finds it a rather soothing experience.

  8. Reading is so important! When I taught school, it was very easy to see which families encouraged their children to read. I read to my son while he was little and I still read aloud to him at 16. He and my husband both love hearing stories being read. When we travel if I can’t find an audiobook, I’ll read aloud to them.

    1. That’s funny. I do the same thing in the car! I love that you still read to your son at 16.

  9. Love the article. I am a teacher and author as well as blogger and I am AMAZED at how many kids do not get read to when they are little. Great reminder for all parents to stop and give their child a gift that can never be taken away. The ability to read and understand life around them…even create a narrative of their own.

    1. So very true and beautifully stated. Thank you.

  10. My Grandfather died when I was 10, but for as long back as I can remember he read from Reader’s Digest to me. He also would play Word Power from Reader’s Digest with me. It is an article where they list 10, I believe, words each with 4 possible definitions and you pick which is correct. They are difficult words, not easy words.

    Even at an early age, I did well with Word Power. I grew to love words, obviously.

    In turn, I found that giving books that they will enjoy to my friend’s young children is fun for me and them.

    One Christmas I gave a book to a friend’s older daughter and a toy to her two year old daughter. The two year old cried.

    1. I completely forgot about Word Power in Reader’s Digest until you mentioned it. I used to love to test my vocabulary with those quizzes. Maybe it’s time to find some good vocabulary books for my kids.Thanks for sharing!

  11. Great post. I was a early childhood teacher for years and I agree with you.

  12. My mother would read to me all the time and I did the same with my kids (I miss it). They’re much older now and I’m amazed at how much my girls love to read. My oldest writes her own stories and my youngest dd loves finding book series to read. My boys are into manga type books, but I’m just glad they are reading something…lol.

    1. I’m so glad you instilled a love of reading into your kids. There are so many great series for kids. And, it’s great that your daughter also has a love for writing. I think it is important to be able to communicate through the written word.

  13. When my daughters were younger, I did a combination of reading to them and having them read to me. When they went to school their teachers were shocked by their reading ability and vocabulary. The other thing I did was I never did the whole baby talk thing and I only talked to them as though they fully understood me.

    1. You make a good point about the baby talk. Kids can understand so much more than we give them credit for sometimes. And, having children read aloud gives the children a wonderful opportunity to work on their fluency skills. Many children are not comfortable with reading out loud and it is a skill that should be practiced. It’s great that you gave them that practice time.

  14. I believe kids today have more means to learn how to read, but I still go for the library books and here I have no idea if libraries are still visited., just so sad. Anyway, good thing you mentioned Reader’s Digest, I loved reading those back in the 90s.

    1. I don’t know the statistics for library use in the general population, but I do know that the library I worked at was very busy. That was encouraging, yet there are so many who don’t use the library. It’s such a great place where a person can get a mainly free education on the topics of their choice.

  15. This post is so helpful! I have always had a love of reading and want to instill that in my own kids. I especially loved your idea for audio books. We use audio books in the car and often listen to books we have recently read. Thank you for your great insights!

    1. I’m glad you found some of the ideas helpful. Thanks for commenting!

  16. This post was fantastic! I have three kids that I am homeschooling and I agree that you need to read to them as much as possible! My oldest is a reluctant reader so I do get a little frustrated, but I just keep reading to her! You have great ideas for exposing kids to learning. I need to go and check out some audio books and give those a try. Thanks for the great information!

    1. The reluctant reader is the hardest to motivate. It’s great that you continue to read to her anyway. Eventually, your excitement for reading will rub off on her. Just in the last week, my older daughter started getting excited about books again! Thanks for reading the post.

  17. Yes! We did all these with our girls. Now, my oldest has a toddler who is beginning to enjoy books. We never said no to the school book orders!

    1. We never say no to the book orders either. Even though I like to save money and we can use the library for free, my daughter gets so excited when she brings the Scholastic book order form home. How can I resist?

  18. Thanks for the great post. Such good reminders. We also get upwards of 100 books at a time each library visit. I wonder if the librarians get tired of us, but they say they love it. Gives them job security lol. Thanks for the tips!! Trudie

    1. Being a former librarian, I can tell you that librarians don’t get tired of this. The libraries depend on people like us to help boost their statistics. I’m so glad you use the library!

  19. Because I worked out of the home when our son was born, we had to do things a little differently. We read to him a lot, but he also saw us reading for pleasure at home. We were the example of what we wanted him to be and now that he’s 21, he has a love for reading like we do.

    1. It’s great that you set that example for your son. Children definitely learn by watching us. It’s nice to know that we can help hone their interests by showing them what we value.

  20. I agree! It’s very important to read to our children often beginning at a very young age. My children (now ages 20, 18, and 12) are all voracious readers, and so are my husband and I. It took my son a few more years to develop a real love of reading on his own than it did his sisters, but thankfully he did become a lover of books just like the rest of us. Thank you for sharing this information and these ideas!

    1. I’m glad you ended up with readers. And, it’s nice to know that your children are still are reading.

  21. I’m grateful that both my kids seem to have inherited their parents’ love of books and reading, though my 5-year-old is just learning her words. I’ll be glad when she gets to the point where she doesn’t want me to read the same books over and over until I almost have them memorized. 🙂 My 11-year-old had a favorite board book when she was a baby and toddler. My husband and I read the book so many times that both of us can still recite most of it from memory.

    1. Kids love to have the same books read repeatedly. I think my daughter liked it because she felt she could read since she had it memorized.

  22. When my kids were young, my mother-in-law ONLY gave them books. I remember thinking, can you add a bit of variety. But in the end she was right, she helped ‘grow’ some great readers in my house. Bless her for always being generous with books.

    1. I wish more people would give books as gifts. It’s nice that she helped contribute to “growing” your readers.

  23. I was a crazy reader growing up. I devoured books! I would check out tons from the library, order books from book clubs constantly, and it made me have an extremely high command of vocabulary and language. I feel in love with words and we still haven’t broken up,lol! I think it’s very important to read to your children. It definitely sets a standard for them to continue reading as they grow.

    1. I always read like crazy as a kid too and still do. I am also in love with words and enjoy growing my vocabulary.

  24. It’s great that you read to your children while they were so young. It’s interesting how they both took different learning paths even though you read the same to both. My mom read to me when I was young, but I can’t say that I ever enjoyed reading. I read throughout school, but it always seemed like a chore. It’s funny that I now have a blog:).

    1. Since you started a blog, it seems that you enjoy some aspects of the written word. I’m glad you enjoy writing even if you don’t enjoy reading.

  25. Love this. My parents raised me to be a great reader at a young age. I love reading books and especially fiction. Several audio things that I have enjoyed was Adventures in Oddessy by focus on the family which is audio drama. Because of this they produced an audio version of the Chronicles of Narnia which was very well done. I have also enjoyed listening to some of the old time radio shows. I love reading and will be taking your tips to raise our children to be strong readers as well. Thank you!

    1. I forgot about the Adventures in Oddessy series. I tried those on my kids when they were younger. At that time, they weren’t too captivated by them. I think they were too young for them. Maybe they would be more interested now. Thanks for the reminder about that family series.

  26. My son loathed reading and his teachers were always concerned about his reading ability. I finally decided it was up to me to take action. I bought my son a few Spiderman comic books as Spiderman was all my son talked about. When I gave my son the comic books, he sat right down on the living room floor and began reading them out loud. He didn’t stumble over the words at all. The next thing I did was take my son to the book store and let him pick out a few books he WANTED to read. My son who is forty is an avid reader. Oh and by the way, he is also an artist and his favorite thing to draw is Spiderman.

    1. I am glad you were able to motivate your son with a topic he was interested in. Sometimes finding just the right book at their interest level is all it takes to get the kids on a reading path.

  27. Raising Readers… well this applies to adults too (lol). I often forget about audiobooks… but this has reminded me to get back in the local library and get my audio books on. Thanks and great post with helpful information.

    1. Audiobooks are a great way to multitask. I will often listen to audiobooks while I am driving or cleaning the house.

  28. Thanks for the tips! I’ll remember these when I have some kiddos!

  29. Fabulous post with excellent helps and ideas! I have 6 children ages 8-24 and have read to all of them… a lot! Even now, I am finishing the Narnia series [again!] with my 8, 10, and 12 year olds. When my 18 y.o. came downstairs the other morning and heard me reading Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day [even though they are big–they LOVE those characters] to his younger siblings–he asked if I still had the full stories on audiobook so he could load them on his phone. My 21 y.o. has almost as many audiobooks as music files on his phone and my 24 y.o. gets frustrated that life as an adult has cut deeply into her reading time. Three of my six kids will say they do not “like” to read, but they know how and know to learn, grow, and have wonderful adventures, you find all in a good book. The older 3 in particular are great writers–I attribute that to all the reading as well. Thanks for this wonderful post! I hope more and more young people find a joy and advantage to reading books and listening to audiobooks.

    1. I love that your 18-year-old wanted to listen to Winnie the Pooh. I still love the Winnie the Pooh stories. I don’t think I will ever outgrow them!

  30. The reading on the lap part makes sense. There is no way they could then miss out of becoming readers. Thanks for the easy to use guide

  31. better to get them started off young 😀

  32. This is awesome! I have always loved to read, and I can’t wait to have children of my own someday so I can (hopefully!) get them to love reading as much as I do! These tips are great, and I will definitely be using them whenever I have kids!

  33. I love this post! My mom did an excellent job of instilling a love of reading in all of her children. She never said no to reading to us and it paid off for us. And for her, since she thought it was important for us to enjoy reading and to be good at it.

    Reading is the foundation for all learning and daily functioning. It’s essential! If you can enjoy it, it’s magical! A book can take you to other worlds and times much better than any movie! I do enjoy movies but they pale in comparison to a good book.

    1. I completely agree with you about reading being the foundation for all learning. If a person is a good reader, the amount one can learn is never-ending.

  34. I had the hooked on phonics set as a little girl which I HATED, I actively refused to learn how to read for years… letting my parents and teachers pull their hair out trying to get me to learn. Turns out what I hated wasn’t reading but the tests they make you take after every lesson… to this day I HATE tests, although I had to get over my fear of them in high school and college. Now I love to read and was a bookworm growing up once I caught on… hopefully my kiddos will inherit my love of books and not my fear of tests!

    1. I’m glad you learned to enjoy books eventually and that you became a bookworm. It’s good you learned to recognize what it was that you didn’t enjoy doing and you didn’t let it get in the way of reading later in life.

  35. I love reading and have since childhood. I am so lucky that my parents encouraged reading and our favorite outing was getting to go to the library! 🙂 These are fantastic tips!

  36. Great tips! I love the idea of giving books as gifts and tend to do that fairly often. It’s so important to raise readers in the digital age where kids tend to focus so much on social media. XOXO, Erin

  37. I love this! I was a speech pathology major until my senior year and I became a Special Ed teacher. I totally thought about becoming a librarian as well for grad school. I taught Special Ed for three years and then applied to grad school to become an ESL teacher. I love my chosen field and I love the literacy focus that has been in all of my jobs!!

    I think people would be surprised if they knew how much reading to their kids can help! I feel lucky to have had that growing up!

    1. It sounds like you have the same interests as me! I’m glad you chose to go into a literacy-rich field and that you love your job!

  38. I’m five out of six now when it comes to readers (my eldest has dyslexic dysgraphia, so reading and writing are painfully difficult for him) – even my 15 year old loves “reading” her books and the 3 year old is working on her alphabet so that she can really read. 🙂 For me, one of the biggest contributors is that my children are surrounded by books from birth and always have their *own* books, starting with cloth books.

    1. Good for you for creating an environment filled with books!

  39. I read to both of my kids from the very beginning. My oldest loves to read, will read anything she can get her hands on. My youngest loves stories, loves to tell them, loves to share them, but we learned at an early age that he has severe learning disabilities and reading for him is beyond difficult. So, I continue to read aloud to him, even as a teenager. My oldest will often times sneak in and listen as I read. Those are special times for all of us.

  40. Love this! I think teaching kids to read is SO important…kudos for talking and encouraging it!

  41. Shani,

    What a fabulous article and resource this is on developing literacy skills in our children! I especially loved the quote, the statistics you provided, and the list of resources.

    I host a community/party called The Book Nook at Create With Joy which would be the perfect place for you to share this post. I hope you’ll join us!

    1. Thank you! I will make sure to check out your party online.

  42. These are fantastic tips! I absolutely love to read and hope my children will someday too!

  43. I started both my kids from birth to be great readers. We participated in all the library programs. It took my son about 10 years before he was actually “reading”. He had enjoyed looking at the pictures and making up stories. Then all the sudden he dove straight into series, chapter books. He burned through them all so fast!!! He’s retaining the information because he’s testing at school on each book. Now our issue is finding more books to read! 😉

    1. What a great issue to have!

  44. I’m an English teacher and think this is just fabulous. Kids need to be reading like crazy from a young age! It helps their writing too.

  45. I love to read to my kids! I also love utilizing several of the ideas you listed such as audio books and signing up for the reading program at the library. I love to read myself. I do much less of it now but as a child I read books all the time. I even got in trouble at school because I would take a book that I was engrossed in to school to read instead of doing my assigned work!

  46. This is such a great post! I did not really grow up being a reader, but I love it now as an adult. I read aloud to my teenagers even still. I do not know who loves it more…me or them! I think with the influx of technology reading has become a lost art and we need to encourage it in our children’s lives.

  47. I love books as gifts, both on the giving & receiving end! We always give books for a baby shower gift ~ my children love picking out ones that were favorites of theirs to pack up in the gift bag. I read and still read to my children. Even my 19 & 15 yr old daughters and I will periodically pick a book to read aloud together. My son struggles with reading due to dyslexia & ADD so we do a lot of work to help him, but I pray he will end up loving to read as much as his older sisters!

  48. My little one loves to read (and he’s only 4). We read to him all the time, and my friends are always shocked at how excited he gets over books.

  49. I don’t have kids, but this is such useful information for parents.
    I’m always grateful to my parents for encouraging me to start reading really early!

  50. Great article, Shani. As a special education teacher and home educator, I know the importance of reading and language. However, I had an obstacle to overcome. It really bothered me that vision loss prevented me from reading to my child. However, she enjoys reading to this day. I attribute it to her father’s example as he loves to read and is always doing so. Different twist, I know. I didn’t have audio books when she was little, but I did participate in all library events back then.

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